LOUDONVILLE — At his introductory press conference three months ago, Jim Jabir — back for a second tour as Siena’s women’s basketball head coach — said one of his goals was to beat Marist, a regular MAAC power and stumbling block for the Saints.
The next day, he got a call from Marist head coach Brian Giorgis.
“I guess he heard,” Jabir said Wednesday after one of his team’s summer workouts. “I didn’t know what else he expected me to say — you know, like, we’re going to finish second to him?”
Jabir delivered that line with a good-natured tone, and the Saints’ new head coach did so after declaring another impressive goal for his club, which is for the Saints to play faster than any other team in the country.
It’s a summer staple for coaches — especially ones new to a program — to promise to play with a more up-tempo style. But for Jabir, who started his decades-long Division I head coaching career at Siena from 1987-90, Wednesday’s promise was part of a developing pattern of setting impressive goals, a tactic meant to establish a culture within the program that will allow it to win MAAC championships.
So, Jabir wants the Saints to play fast — and that means their aim should be to play faster than anyone, not just most squads.
“We’re going to try,” said Jabir, who coached most recently at Florida Atlantic. “I mean, that’s the goal.”
At Siena, Jabir takes back over a program that has struggled to win with consistency since it won six MAAC regular-season championships in a span of seven seasons that ended in 2004. The tenure of Ali Jaques, Jabir’s predecessor, ended after three consecutive losing seasons, and Siena has only produced two winning seasons in its last 17.
“He’s about business,” Siena graduate student Rayshel Brown said, “and he just wants to win.”
So a key part of the Saints’ summer workouts, which started last week, is to set expectations at a high level — and to equip the Saints to reach them.
“The ability to finish something successfully is important to teach and to learn, so we’re trying to teach them how to win because . . . we’ve never been able to get over the hump, and I think we have enough talent this year to do that,” Jabir said.
At the very least, the Saints have enough players to do that. Between Siena’s returning players, recruits and transfers, Jabir’s roster includes 16 players — and seven of those players are either seniors or graduate students.
“It is a really big team, and I’m glad everybody’s here because I love being around them,” said Jabir, whose coaching resume includes an Elite Eight appearance from his time at Dayton. “It’s kind of rejuvenated me. The best part of my day is being with them. They’ve been really receptive, really open and very, very coachable — so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Valencia Fontenelle-Posson, a freshman who previously starred at Guilderland High School, said she had been looking forward to starting up summer workouts with the Saints.
“And it didn’t disappoint,” Fontenelle-Posson said. “The workouts are great. We’re all pushing each other, and that’s what I expected.”
Jabir’s message during the workouts, Fontenelle-Posson said, has been clear.
“We have to focus on the little things and we have to be there for each other,” Fontenelle-Posson said. “We all have to play as a team and work hard every second that we’re on the court so we can execute in the future.”
“We need everyone to buy in and just be what we’re about at Siena,” senior Margo Peterson said.
To this point, Jabir said his group has “been wonderful” in how it has adjusted to his style. He said the program’s returning players have “been really open to everything; we’ve had some really tough conversations and honest conversations, and they’ve been so bought in,” while his team’s new players have been eager to learn. Siena is coming off a 4-9 campaign and lost its leading scorer in Isis Young to graduation, but Jabir said he doesn’t want to put a limit on what his program can achieve in the 2021-22 season.
“I think we have enough players to win some games and definitely improve,” Jabir said, “and, hopefully, we can win a championship. We’re going to try really hard.”